Rituals of Healing

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Straw Mosque, Senegal, 1995. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


The influence of other world religious systems in Africa is apparent in most parts of the continent where there has been Islamic and Christian presence for centuries. The fundamental tolerance of African systems of thought has allowed a blend of indigenous and foreign religious characteristics. Due to the connection between physical and spiritual well-being in Africa, these adaptations are often most evident in systems of healing. For example, the Islamic presence in Senegal has created a synthesis of local and Islamic architectural traditions. Mosques serve not only as sites of worship, but also as sites of healing. The sacred space of some places of worship, such as this exquisite Islamic mosque made by hand of local materials, provides spiritual and physical cleansing and healing. Designs woven into the wall represent holy passages from the Koran, which have the power to heal, protect, and provide.